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Commencement 2010

Posted: 05/23/2010

As incoming first-year students four years ago, members of the Class of 2010 read Gregory Howard Williams’ Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black, his memoir of growing up in the 1950s and early 60s in the segregated world of Muncie, Indiana. And they heard him tell his story in-person when he visited the campus to give one of the first lectures of the fall semester of 2006. At the College’s 99th Commencement, held Saturday on a beautiful spring day at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, they connected with Williams once again. Now president of the University of Cincinnati (he was formerly president of the City College of New York), Williams congratulated the class on “achieving a great personal milestone in your education” and urged them to do all they could to prepare for the moment when – as his father told him – “that tap on the shoulder comes.” “You never know when that tap on the shoulder will happen or what it may entail,” he said. “It might be a boss asking you to take on some new responsibility. It might be a non-profit organization or a friend asking you to head a committee; it might be a problem in your community awaiting a good solution. No one can predict what that tap on the shoulder will look like, or sound like, or where it will originate …But it will happen. And I hope you will be willing to answer. Our world holds an abundance of problems and an abundance of people in need of your abilities to help.” Williams was awarded an honorary degree along with PBS news commentator Gwen Ifill and Sir Clive Gillinson, executive and artistic director at Carnegie Hall, at a ceremony at which 624 members of the Class of 2010, 34 students in the College’s University Without Walls program, and 9 master of arts liberal studies students were awarded diplomas. “Make a promise, and keep it, to find a mission for your life,” Ifill urged the graduates. “Make a promise to yourself to fix, and to explain, and to investigate, and to understand, to always have another question; make a promise to care about more than yourself, to affect the lives of those around you, a promise to use what you know about the potential of rebuilt bridges and healing words to create new relationships where none existed before, that expand on the relationships that you built and leave here today. “And make a very simple promise: to save the world for the rest of us,” she continued. “I'm not asking for a lot from you, but I know that you're up to it. Along the way the only other promise I command of you is that you learn to laugh. That's the only way that it all works.” Calling himself “incredibly lucky to have worked with truly extraordinary people,” including the great Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich and American composer Leonard Bernstein, Gillinson urged the graduates to do everything in life with “total and absolute conviction” – and also with humility. “My own view is that humility has always been the most important talent of them all,” he said. “When one thinks of the truly great artists in the world, they are the ones who get up wanting to be better than they were yesterday.” President Philip A. Glotzbach also spoke about humility – a “virtue that may seem a bit out of fashion today” but is “really just the awareness that one still has something to learn, that both the world and one’s work are always greater than one’s self.” Glotzbach pointed at the example of Arlo Guthrie, who performed Saturday night in the Zankel Music Center as part of Caffe Lena’s 50th anniversary celebration. Guthrie, Glotzbach noted, “has said that every ten years he literally takes up the guitar as a beginner – starting over with the finger positions for chords and going on from there, pushing himself to play better than in the past.” [Full text of Glotzbach’s remarks] Speaking on behalf of the faculty, Winston Grady-Willis, associate professor of American Studies and director of Intercultural Studies, congratulated the class for their activism and said they had left an “indelible mark” on the institution with their work in three areas this year: their immediate response to the earthquake in Haiti, which resulted in raising thousands of dollars for that “proud but beleaguered nation”; their creation via SGA’s 30 responsible citizenship internship awards, and the dialog they spearheaded this spring about the problem of sexual violence. “Well done,” he said. Senior Class President Michael Cass-Antony reminded his classmates of the day four years ago when, as newly arrived first-year students, they sat in the gym in matching red shirts and listened to Dean of Admissions of Mary Lou Bates paint a statistical picture of the class’s diversity. “But as I stand here and look out at all of you, I know these numbers don’t tell the whole picture,” he continued. “I see future actors and writers, diplomats and doctors, musicians and poets, teachers and scientists, and much more. I see Democrats and Republicans, Independents and Libertarians. I see people who play soccer and baseball, who practice martial arts and fencing, who play ultimate Frisbee and hockey. This is the gift Skidmore has given us: the ability to study almost anything we want, to major in two completely different subjects, take classes in any discipline, join any club, audition for any performance, and create something entirely our own.” Senior Gift Chairs Claire Solomon and Raina Bretan announced that 502 of their classmates – 80 percent of the total – had contributed $6700 toward a scholarship that will be awarded to a rising Skidmore senior in the fall. “This is a tangible gift shows that we have a stake in the future of Skidmore,” they said, and, in closing, added: “We want to think Skidmore for making us who we are but we also want to thank you, for making Skidmore what it is and what it will continue to be.” “Wait a minute,” they added (For more, play video.)